By Tania Moffat
Let’s face it: getting sick on vacation is kind of like an unlucky lottery where the odds are always against you. You can do everything you can to try to avoid it – fold the corner of your ticket, pick your lucky numbers or play a smarter hand, but either way it’s a crap shoot.
Getting sick is an inevitability in life, but it is often easier to get sick while on holidays. Your body is being exposed to new bugs, bacteria, parasites, food and environments. Often times you are passing through high traffic areas such as airports and hotels. You are changing your routines, perhaps staying up later, eating more or differently, having a few drinks and exploring new environments – beaches, water, forests, etc. All of this combined with the stress of travelling, especially if you are crossing several time zones, can take its toll on your body.
How to stack the deck in your favour:
- Stay hydrated. Many people have trouble drinking enough water at the best of times. Add to that hot temps, alcohol, if you’re drinking, extra food and salt, if you’re eating out a lot; and dehydration can set you back.
- Don’t drink tap water. Yes, even in the uber-fancy, diamond deluxe resorts. Use bottled water to rinse your mouth out when you brush. Is it necessary? Maybe not, but it’s an easy preventative measure. Also avoid ice and fruits rinsed in tap water, and ensure your water bottles have not been refilled.
- Wash, sanitize, wash your hands, sanitize! They say a little dirt never hurt anyone, but to avoid ruining your holiday by picking up someone else’s nasties, be diligent and wash up. Public places are havens for viruses, try to keep your hands to yourself as much as possible, especially out of airplane seatback pockets.
- Be probiotic. Taking probiotics can help your stomach deal with the different bacteria being introduced to it through different meals and methods of cooking. This is especially helpful for people with a sensitive GI tract.
Murphy’s Law. Pack your mini-pharmacy: Imodium, Tums, Pepto and Gravol for stomach ailments and also Tylenol, Advil, Nyquil, Halls, or whatever go-to medications work for you and your prescriptions. Don’t forget bandages, tea tree oil or antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes, hand sanitizer, etc. If you bring it you likely won’t need it and if you do, you will have the right medication when you do need it.
- Get your needles. Don’t skip on your travel vaccinations. Hepatitis, malaria and dengue fever are not souvenirs you want to bring home with you.
- Boost that immune system before you leave. Rest, eat well, exercise. Don’t push yourself to the limit and say, “I’ll rest there,” or you will, in your room.
- Watch your alcohol intake, especially at all inclusives. Too much alcohol can compromise your immune system. Add to that too much sun and presto, you’re sick.
- Be sun smart. Protect yourself with a hat and sunscreen to prevent burning. Avoid staying out too long, the last thing you need is a severe sun burn or sunstroke.
- Eat wisely. If you have one of those stomachs, avoid food that has been kept warm – go for freshly cooked foods that are served hot. Avoid raw fish and shellfish, like oysters. Food contamination is one of the biggest causes of traveller’s diarrhea. If you are not careful you could potentially be exposing yourself to E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella, Giardia, Entamoeba hystolytica, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidia, Cyclospora, Cholera and more.
- The most common mistake people make is radically altering their diet on vacation. Don’t. Go slow introducing new foods or try to eat the way you normally do. If you introduce a change too quickly – too much fruit, extra caffeine, different cooking methods – you won’t be able to properly digest the food or may irritate your digestive tract which can lead to stomach pain, cramps, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, and heartburn.
- Keep bugs off. Avoid bites and bug related infections. Wear long sleeves and pants in the early morning and evening, and wear repellent. Check yourself for insects after returning from a walk through forests or jungles. Monitor bug bites for infection.
- Don’t relax or you’ll get sick? Leisure sickness is accompanied by the usual cold or flu symptoms; feeling run down; nausea; headaches; muscle aches and pains; feeling depressed or anxious. It can happen to those who deal with daily stress. The sudden absence of stress (and adrenaline that helps you cope with it) weakens your immune system and you fall ill. It’s similar to when you push yourself to work long hours to get a project or event done and once it’s over your body screams in revolt and you get sick.